Seahawks look to move forward after unexpected playoff run

RENTON, Wash. -- Matt Hasselbeck summarized the Seattle Seahawks' entire season with one statement.

"I don't know if everyone realizes how close we were to doing something really special," the veteran quarterback said after Sunday's season-ending 35-24 loss to the Chicago Bears in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. "I mean, we had everything set up for us.

"We didn't deserve it, but it was right there for us."

No, the Seahawks probably didn't deserve to find themselves in the second round of the NFC playoffs and one victory away from being home for the NFC Championship Game, especially considering they needed to make it to the Super Bowl just to assure itself of a .500 record.

The Seahawks were the punchline of the NFL playoffs, finishing the regular season with a 7-9 record, needing a win in Week 17 to clinch the dubious honor of being the first division champ in league history with a losing record. Then Seattle went out and stunned defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans in the wild-card round, providing a surprising exclamation point to coach Pete Carroll's first season back in the NFL following his decade of dominance at USC.

All of it fit with the bipolar nature of Seattle's season. The Seahawks started 4-2, limped home by losing seven of their last 10 games and reached the playoffs only because of the woefulness of the NFC West and a season-ending victory over the St. Louis Rams.

The Seahawks rarely were competitive, with the 11-point loss to the Bears their closest defeat -- and one that shouldn't have ended that close. Seattle trailed 21-0 at halftime and 28-3 early in the fourth quarter before three late touchdown passes by Hasselbeck made the final score more respectable.

During the regular season, the Seahawks never lost by fewer than 15 points and beat just two teams with a winning record.

Ultimately, the season was a step forward for a franchise that dominated the division just a few years ago but had won a combined nine games the past two years. After those struggles, an 8-10 final record in Carroll's first year doesn't look so bad.

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"It's a start. The foundation is set, the atmosphere, the attitude, the direction is in place," wide receiver Mike Williams said Monday. "There is a lot of change, a new offense, new personnel, (but) the jump from Year 1 to Year 2 is usually pretty positive. A lot of guys will be moving around, we don't know who will be here, but the core of our guys and the attitude is here."

Part of Seattle's difficulties this season stemmed from constant roster turnover, with 284 transactions from when Carroll took over until the end of the season. There were starters against the Bears who didn't even arrive until just before the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. Brandon Stokley, who caught eight passes against Chicago, didn't join the team until after Week 3.

"For us to have that many transactions, more than I've ever been a part of, to have a chance at the end and to end up being a champion, it's an outstanding head start to the foundation you're trying to build," said 37-year-old safety Lawyer Milloy, who hasn't decided if he'll return for a 16th NFL season. "And, ultimately, next year most of the guys that ended this season will be here, and you don't have as much movement and, hopefully, your team has that much more continuity."

The loss to Chicago highlighted many of Seattle's deficiencies that must be addressed during the offseason. The Seahawks' inability to establish a run game was a problem all season, and fixing the offensive line will be one of the top priorities. Seattle averaged just 89 yards per game on the ground in the regular season, and the arrival of Marshawn Lynch in a trade with Buffalo failed to produce the desired results. Lynch became Seattle's first 100-yard rusher in 21 games when he ran for 131 yards against New Orleans in the playoff opener.

There remain concerns about Seattle's secondary, which allowed too many big plays -- none bigger than Greg Olsen's 58-yard TD catch on Chicago's third offensive play Sunday -- and a defensive line that struggled to get a pass rush playing away from home. Despite the comeback of Williams, the Seahawks could use another downfield receiving threat.

Seattle has 27 players either on the 53-man roster or injured reserve who aren't under contract for the 2011 season, including nine starters from Sunday's game against Chicago.

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But the biggest decision about the Seahawks' offseason lies in the hands of Hasselbeck, an unrestricted free agent. The veteran understands the team is looking for its quarterback of the future, whether it decides to move forward with current backup Charlie Whitehurst in that role or looks for a college prospect in this year's draft.

Carroll last week publicly said the team wants Hasselbeck to return. But Hasselbeck's play against the Saints was a reminder of how he still can perform, even at 35, and there likely will be plenty of suitors -- Arizona and San Francisco in the NFC West -- that the quarterback could have some options on the free-agent market.

Hasselbeck sounds as if he doesn't want to test the open market. Although the potential lockout will have a major impact on when free agents might be able to sign, Hasselbeck said Monday as he cleaned out his locker that he can't envision himself playing for another franchise.

"All the hard work has been done here this year, going through all the change, going through the drama at times and just going through all the adversity," Hasselbeck said. "It would be so much fun to be part of the rest of it. and we won our division this year, which has always been important to me."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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